There are certain moments in a creative life when the proverbial ‘light bulb’ experience happens; a giant globe of glass fills with light above your head and grows intensely as the moments pass. I had such an experience in May of 2010 when I visited Los Angeles. I was there for the opening of my solo show at Christopher Farr’s gallery and several of my fabulous aunts and uncles flew in to say hello and offer their support. My uncle Frank; a wonderful creator of wooden houses, was staying in LA with his other half Tea and they said they wanted to introduce me to someone.
We arrived at a modest, modern LA style house, in a fairly urban part of LA; not a city I know well at all, and the door was opened by an energetic woman in her late 70’s. A strong, intense person with a wide smile. This was Channa Horwitz. We then entered what felt like a Tardis style space, opening up into several floors; somewhat boat-like and full to the rafters of the most graphic, mathematical, colourful and striking art I have ever seen. Grids and blocks of colour, graphs and DNA type sequencing motifs and most notably, to my weavers mind, drawings that look like weave structure notation. Somewhat speechless I wandered through this incredible space where Channa had lived and worked for many years. I’m no art historian and since her sad death last year you can find much about this extraordinary artist, who is finally achieving the recognition she deserves, written by more knowledgeable people than I.
What I can say is that I felt like I was walking inside the mind of a person who had created a working practice so unique and connected with my own work that it was quite overwhelming. Hearing her speak about her work I realised that she had spent much of the last several decades making her work privately, very much isolated from the art world in general. An overwhelming sense of enquiry about her subject, constant exploration around a specific set of ideas. I use the term ‘Graph Mistress’ in the sense that graph paper, so central to many of her drawings, seems somehow a raw material. As a weaver myself, who’s artworks are created almost exclusively on the warp + weft axis, this clearly resonates with me. Weaving too is basically about grids and graphs.
As noted on the Whitney Museum website:
“For over four decades, Channa Horwitz produced drawings, paintings, and installations using a rigid formal vocabulary of her devising, built on a standardized grid (that of graph paper) and a system of notations based on the numbers 1 through 8, each assigned its own color. This system, which the artist termed “Sonakinatography,” was developed by Horwitz as a way of marking and expressing time, movement, and rhythm. Many of her works were originally intended as scores—detailed yet open-ended notations for dancers, musicians, and performers. The self-evidently labor-intensive and painstaking process of creating the drawings themselves suggests their additional role as records of the artist’s own time, labor, and thought”
There’s another thought here; art has no age boundaries. Channa inspires in me the comforting idea that I can continue to create art for another 40 or 50 years…. if I have the health, strength and perseverance… regardless of how I might be acknowledged in the art world.
She gives me courage to carry on.